You could call Kaida’s life a Cinderella story, if Cinderella had a psychopath for a stepsister and a ninja master instead of a fairy godmother.
Kaida is an ama, a pearl diver, living in a tiny speck of a town that clings like a barnacle to the coast of Japan. She has no last name; only nobles and samurai warrant surnames, and in any case Kaida’s village is so small that everyone knows everyone else on sight.
This is how I first met her: as a nobody among nobodies. In that sense she’s totally unlike the other protagonists in Year of the Demon. Detective Sergeant Oshiro Mariko is the only woman in Tokyo’s most elite police unit. Respect is something she has to fight for day in and day out, but Mariko certainly isn’t a nobody. Neither is Okuma Daigoro, a young samurai who must defend his clan against the most powerful warlord in the empire. Daigoro may be outmatched, but he’s still the lord of his house and the head of his clan.
Year of the Demon is three stories in one; it sees Kaida, Daigoro, and Mariko all bound together over some 500-odd years of history. Given the fact that Mariko and Daigoro are anything but nobodies, I’m not sure why Kaida introduced herself to me in the way that she did. But as soon as I met her, I liked her. She’s tough, curious, inventive, thoughtful, but I think what I like about her most is that she’s not content to be a nobody.
Not long ago, Kaida had a very simple life: her father was a fisherman, she and her mother were ama, and together they went to sea every day and returned home every night. Kaida herself can’t explain why she wants more. Most of the girls in her village aspire only to getting married and having children. This is 1533, after all; women are not allowed the luxury of ambition. But for Kaida, even when her life was at its best, it was still a good life in a cage.
Now the good days are gone. Her mother was killed when their family’s boat was dashed against the rocks in a storm. The same accident claimed Kaida’s left hand; now her forearm ends in a scarred stump. She was only twelve when it happened. Now, at thirteen, learning how to dive and fish one-handed is the least of her worries. Her father has remarried, and his new wife seems to have a hypnotic power over him to keep him in her bed. This leaves Kaida alone to contend with her three stepsisters: Miyoko, the ringleader; Kiyoko, always a follower; and Shioko, smallest and youngest of them all, always striving to prove herself.
On their own, Kiyoko and Shioko might have been harmless, but as Miyoko’s lieutenants they are anything but. Miyoko is a sociopath, as Kaida learns when she becomes the object of Miyoko’s obsession. Now more than ever, Kaida needs to escape her village. Miyoko cannot be reasoned with and she doesn’t know when to quit. Being doomed to an average, insignificant life is depressing enough, but Kaida isn’t interested in making a name for herself as the girl who was murdered by her own stepsister.
But getting out seems impossible. Kaida’s village is a cage without bars. Steep cliffs wall it in on three sides, and the fourth wall is the sea itself: cold, relentless, infested with sharks. No thirteen-year-old girl can contend against nature itself, not even one as resilient and resourceful as Kaida.
I think that’s all the introduction I’ll give you for now: Kaida the nobody, desperate to leave her circumstances but unable to see a way out. I know, I know: I haven’t explained how she gets a ninja master instead of a fairy godmother. You’ll have to read Year of the Demon to find out.
Year of the Demon
Bein’s gripping debut is a meticulously researched, highly detailed blend of urban and historical fantasy set in modern Tokyo. Det. Sgt. Mariko Oshiro is fighting an uphill battle against sexism and tradition in the narcotics division of the Tokyo police. Her antagonistic boss assigns her to a mundane case involving the attempted theft of a sword, but it gets a lot less boring when Mariko winds up on the trail of a ruthless killer. As she learns the hidden history behind a trio of ancient magical swords, she discovers that she may be destined to wield one of them. Alternating segments switch between Mariko’s present-day adventures and other owners of the swords throughout history. Bein’s scrupulous attention to verisimilitude helps bring all the settings to life, respectfully showcasing Japan’s distinctive cultures and attitudes.
Steve Bein is philosopher, photographer, traveler, translator, climber, diver, and award-winning author of fantasy and science fiction. His short stories and novellas have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Interzone, Writers of the Future, and in international translation. His first novel, Daughter of the Sword, was met with critical acclaim, and his second novel, Year of the Demon, comes out on October 1st. You can read more about Steve’s work at www.philosofiction.com, and like Steve at facebook/philosofiction. You can find all of his books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.